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  1. #1
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    Post Volunteer fire departments could lose immunity

    Volunteer fire departments could lose immunity
    By Brandon Ortiz
    bortiz@herald-leader.com

    Brief from Green's Motorcycle Salvage Yard in the fire-department case

    Caneyville's brief in the fire-department case

    FRANKFORT *— In small-town Kentucky, volunteer firefighters are part tradition, part public service.


    The state has more volunteer fire departments than cities — 767, according to the Kentucky Fire Commission.


    The Kentucky Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a case that the Kentucky League of Cities says could mean the end to small-town volunteer fire departments.


    “It would be dire because it would be a very chilling effect on volunteers, which is what many, many of our small communities rely on to provide fire services,” said Sylvia Lovely, executive director and chief executive officer of the Kentucky League of Cities.


    State law has long prohibited lawsuits against volunteer fire departments — and volunteer firefighters — by extending sovereign immunity to them.


    A firefighter cannot, for example, be sued because a homeowner thinks a fire wasn't put out fast enough.


    But the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled that law unconstitutional last year.


    That ruling was tested Wednesday, when arguments were heard in a lawsuit filed by a motorcycle salvage yard in tiny Caneyville, a Western Kentucky town of 637.


    The suit was dismissed at the trial court level, but was reinstated by the Court of Appeals.


    Orville and Cathy Green's business suffered $200,000 in damages because volunteer firefighters bungled their response, says their lawyer, Alton Cannon of Leitchfield.


    ‘A lot of tears shed'


    The Greens are just now returning to the same financial condition they were in before the fire, which was five years ago, Cathy Green said.


    “There are still some things we miss,” she said in an interview. Orville Green has tinkered with motorcycles on and off his entire life. After a 1988 truck accident, he started working on bikes again to pass time.


    The hobby morphed into a small business, Green's Motor*cycle Salvage.


    On the ice-cold morning of Dec. 3, 2003, a shed at the back of the business's property caught fire, possibly because of an electrical short, Cathy Green said.


    The Caneyville Volunteer Fire Department was called, and it arrived with a small firetruck.


    It soon became apparent, Green said, that the volunteers were not equipped to handle the fire. He begged them to call the professional, paid fire department to the east in Leitchfield.


    “We were begging for more help the whole time and they wouldn't do nothing about it,” Green said.


    Cathy Green says the volunteers underestimated the fire.


    By the time volunteers changed their mind, it was too late. The fire had consumed another building which housed all of Green's inventory, equipment and tools.


    Green's buildings were insured. The motorcycles and parts were not.


    “We weren't planning on anything like this,” Green said.


    An insurance company replaced the buildings. But the Greens had to borrow money to buy new tools and motorcycles. They also had to endure the trauma of seeing their business go up in flames.


    “It was rough, don't you worry,” Orville Green said.


    Added Cathy Green: “A lot of tears shed, trust me.”


    Right to sue


    Cannon, the Greens' attorney, says the state constitution guarantees the couple's right to sue Caneyville for negligence, under what's known in legal circles as the jural rights doctrine. The doctrine, which is unique to Kentucky, is derived from three sections in the state constitution that protect an individual's right to sue.


    Insurance companies have long sought to have the Supreme Court overturn the doctrine because the doctrine has been used to thwart tort reform in Kentucky.


    Caneyville's lawyer, Greg Stivers of Bowling Green, echoed those arguments to the Supreme Court on Wednesday.


    Caneyville is insured by the Kentucky League of Cities.


    The state constitution also recognizes sovereign immunity, which prohibits lawsuits against the state and counties in most cases. But it does not protect municipalities.


    A Kentucky law extends immunity to firefighters.


    Cannon says calling volunteer firefighters part of the state is like calling a dog a horse.


    “Was is it Shakespeare who talked about a rose by any other name?” he said.


    Cannon says the lawsuit will not hurt small-town fire departments, noting that virtually all of them have insurance. He called sovereign immunity a freebie for insurance companies.


    But Lovely said an adverse ruling would cause a substantial increase in insurance premiums. That, in turn, would hurt the small towns that have so little money that they couldn't afford a paid fire department to begin with.


    Volunteer fire departments are a major provider of services in rural areas. Pike County, for instance, has 27 fire departments. Only one of them is paid, said Ronnie Day, executive director of the Kentucky Fire Commission.


    Caneyville's mayor, James P. Embry, said higher insurance premiums would be a real burden on his town.


    “It would be hard to come up with more money, that's for sure,” he said.


    A law blogger and retired judge said it's unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn the jural rights doctrine, which has become an ingrained part of Kentucky case law.


    That would mean a blanket ban on lawsuits would not stand.


    But Stan Billingsley, who runs lawreader.com, says that volunteer firefighters might still be protected by qualified immunity if they make their decisions in good faith.


    The state constitution was crafted in the Gilded Age in 1890, a time when railroads and large corporations were seen as having abused their power and were largely distrusted by the public.


    Billingsley said the Supreme Court has discussed “the danger of giving the legislature the power to ‘favor large corporations and railroads' by limiting claims against them.”
    Reach Brandon Ortiz at (859) 231-1443 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1443.
    Always a day late and a dollar short!

    Hillbilly Irish!


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    Montana state had something similar last year, basically saying the cheif can be hung if there is a problem, but as far as I know individual firefighters are still relativly covered.

    One more nail in the cofin...someday we are going to look back and remember the good old days of the vollies...and how cheap it was compaired to funding a few thousand more paid FDs in the USA.

    National fire brigade ala UK on the way???

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    Forum Member johnny46's Avatar
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    So the business owner wasn't fully insured.

    Who's fault is that?
    Logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.

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    Quote Originally Posted by johnny46 View Post
    So the business owner wasn't fully insured.

    Who's fault is that?
    Apparently the FD's. Weren't you paying attention when you read the article?

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    It's the FD's primary responsibility to put out the fire efficiently and quickly regardless of whether the propertyowner is insured or not.
    PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

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    • Business owner under insured...who's fault? = business owner.
    • Business owner unhappy with resources and response of volunteer fire department...who's fault? = Business owner and every other tax payer in that community.

      You get what you pay for and apparently they desired the services of the local city's paid fire department yet I doubt paid one cent in taxes to support such resources for their community.

    Moral of the story...buy enough insurance and as for volunteer FD's...you get what you pay for.

    FTM-PTB

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    makes good girls go bad BLSboy's Avatar
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    More VFDs then there are cities?
    Is this New Jersey?

    Consolidate, and go paid!
    Seriously, there is NO reason for there to be any more then ONE Fire Dept in a city. The old days of this is my sandbox, go find your own, need to end.
    AJ, MICP, FireMedic
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    Quote Originally Posted by BLSboy View Post
    More VFDs then there are cities?
    Is this New Jersey?

    Consolidate, and go paid!
    Seriously, there is NO reason for there to be any more then ONE Fire Dept in a city. The old days of this is my sandbox, go find your own, need to end.
    I would imagine they are like a number of predominately rural states where the number of "cities" aren't as many as the "communities" or "villages." There could be any number of villages that don't meet the "city" status that are miles away from a town that does and needs it's own FD.

    At the same time, there can be a number of city departments that don't respond outside of city, requiring a rural department (which is once again a commonality of rural states).

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    Quote Originally Posted by FFFRED View Post
    • Business owner under insured...who's fault? = business owner.
    • Business owner unhappy with resources and response of volunteer fire department...who's fault? = Business owner and every other tax payer in that community.

      You get what you pay for and apparently they desired the services of the local city's paid fire department yet I doubt paid one cent in taxes to support such resources for their community.

    Moral of the story...buy enough insurance and as for volunteer FD's...you get what you pay for.

    FTM-PTB
    Absolute truth.
    IAFF

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    Lots of questions could come from this. Did the little volley crew have a M/A agreement with the neighboring career dept? If no, why no automatic aid for confirmed structure fires? The Armchairing can go on for a while, but the real question is "Why is this decision even being made?".

    Small town depts get the short end of the stick in these IMO. If there was no dept, he would have lost everything anyway. Most of these small towns are one step up from a bucket brigade, and that isn't going to change because you legislate responsibility. The FD's problem's can't be determined here in cyberspace, but they certainly should make the community know that there are limitations to thier response and training. If it is anything like the rural Canadian FD, the problems are funding, manpower, and subsequent lack of training.

    Unfortunately, we see it here all the time. "We're just as good as a career FD, etc..." That may be true in a few cases of very well organized and busy VFD's, but the vast majority are fooling themselves. You cannot recreate the efficieny of a multi-hall, multi-service FD out of one building. The VFD's just don't want to give up the club mentality in favour of improving the service.

    Unfortunatley, in a time where volunteers are hard to come by, and career depts are very costly, a decision against the VFD's would certainly take a toll.
    Never argue with an Idiot. They drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience!

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    Quote Originally Posted by FFFRED View Post
    • Business owner under insured...who's fault? = business owner.
    • Business owner unhappy with resources and response of volunteer fire department...who's fault? = Business owner and every other tax payer in that community.

      You get what you pay for and apparently they desired the services of the local city's paid fire department yet I doubt paid one cent in taxes to support such resources for their community.

    Moral of the story...buy enough insurance and as for volunteer FD's...you get what you pay for.

    FTM-PTB
    Fred, I have seen alot of fires where the volly FD did a much better job than some of the abortions I have seen perpetrated by some career departments.
    PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI View Post
    Fred, I have seen alot of fires where the volly FD did a much better job than some of the abortions I have seen perpetrated by some career departments.
    I have too...But that wasn't the point. At least twice in my time as a fireman in two different Depts. (1 Volly and 1 paid) I responded to a job under somewhat similar circumstances.

    Example 1: Rual Middle of nowhere BFE...double wide turned with framing built around it and enlosed with new walls and a roof of questionable stability.

    We just had completed a live burn 30 mintues before alarm was transmitted so many guys were near by respective stations and were already to respond with gear. I driving was 2nd Due company (1st Due Engine) got there in great time. Sizable fire in rear of house but should be controllable.

    I ended up on the nozzle...cowards either wouldn't enter and back-up man abandoned me. Idiots stretched of my rig with insufficent lengths (I was setting rig up to draft at the time and didn't see what they were doing.) Placed PPV fan in front door with insuffient ventilation and closed doors between them and the exhaust point that only fed the fire in my direction and then due to more stupidity of the 10th degree my hose went limp due to the idiots pumping the water from my Engine to the Tanker which should have been supplying my rig! Litterally almost didn't make it.

    Well to top it off I get outside and everything on me is scalding hot and steaming (it was already 95+degrees to begin with) I'm thanking god I'm alive sitting on the picnic table they have in the front yard along with all the other assorted adornments one would expect to find in an inbreds front lawn(BigWheel with the "big wheel" broken, old firebird on blocks, 1small and two largeblock GM motors, Toilet w/o seat, old bedsprings and assorted garbage and lawn art) and the hillbilly toothless homeowner is complaining that we didn't do enough and we took to long and we did this wrong and that wrong and we are a joke...bla...bla...bla.

    Meanwhile him and his bakers dozen of brain cells never thought to volunteer himself and if he wanted better service he could have moved a few miles down the road into the only city nearby that has a paid fire department. He paid for the level of service that he got...you can't expect a city FD response when you don't pay for that level of resources.

    2nd example was different...thunderstorm rolls in and with it comes lightining...we hear a loud crack and figure that must of hit something within a few miles. Sure enough alarm of fire...roof on fire of PD in what is actually a housing addition that was surounded by our city but they refused to be annexed as they didn't want to pay city taxes!

    So we show up, hydrant in this clowns front yard and he is yelling at me that I'm not moving fast enough to put out his house which is on fire (wood shake roof!) We did a decent job considering that I've never stopped a wood roof fire from consuming the entire roof when it has a 5 min start on us.

    Guy makes a complete scene and is complaining that we didnt' show up fast enough...we are burning his house down...etc. Meanwhile the fire protection district that he does pay taxes too(much less BTW) shows up about 10 mintues after we do.

    We were there only because they were an island of county property within city limits and we had automatic aid throughout the county. We had no mandate to be there and didn't owe him a d@mn thing.

    Moral of the story...especially when you settle for a volunteer fire department and the level of service that it provides....you only get what you pay for.

    FTM-PTB
    Last edited by FFFRED; 08-14-2008 at 03:44 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FFFRED View Post
    I have too...But that wasn't the point. At least twice in my time as a fireman in two different Depts. (1 Volly and 1 paid) I responded to a job under somewhat similar circumstances.

    Example 1: Rual Middle of nowhere BFE...double wide turned with framing built around it and enlosed with new walls and a roof of questionable stability.

    We just had completed a live burn 30 mintues before alarm was transmitted so many guys were near by respective stations and were already to respond with gear. I driving was 2nd Due company (1st Due Engine) got there in great time. Sizable fire in rear of house but should be controllable.

    I ended up on the nozzle...cowards either wouldn't enter and back-up man abandoned me. Idiots stretched of my rig with insufficent lengths (I was setting rig up to draft at the time and didn't see what they were doing.) Placed PPV fan in front door with insuffient ventilation and closed doors between them and the exhaust point that only fed the fire in my direction and then due to more stupidity of the 10th degree my hose went limp due to the idiots pumping the water from my Engine to the Tanker which should have been supplying my rig! Litterally almost didn't make it.

    Well to top it off I get outside and everything on me is scalding hot and steaming (it was already 95+degrees to begin with) I'm thanking god I'm alive sitting on the picnic table they have in the front yard along with all the other assorted adornments one would expect to find in an inbreds front lawn(BigWheel with the "big wheel" broken, old firebird on blocks, 1small and two largeblock GM motors, Toilet w/o seat, old bedsprings and assorted garbage and lawn art) and the hillbilly toothless homeowner is complaining that we didn't do enough and we took to long and we did this wrong and that wrong and we are a joke...bla...bla...bla.

    Meanwhile him and his bakers dozen of brain cells never thought to volunteer himself and if he wanted better service he could have moved a few miles down the road into the only city nearby that has a paid fire department. He paid for the level of service that he got...you can't expect a city FD response when you don't pay for that level of resources.

    2nd example was different...thunderstorm rolls in and with it comes lightining...we hear a loud crack and figure that must of hit something within a few miles. Sure enough alarm of fire...roof on fire of PD in what is actually a housing addition that was surounded by our city but they refused to be annexed as they didn't want to pay city taxes!

    So we show up, hydrant in this clowns front yard and he is yelling at me that I'm not moving fast enough to put out his house which is on fire (wood shake roof!) We did a decent job considering that I've never stopped a wood roof fire from consuming the entire roof when it has a 5 min start on us.

    Guy makes a complete scene and is complaining that we didnt' show up fast enough...we are burning his house down...etc. Meanwhile the fire protection district that he does pay taxes too(much less BTW) shows up about 10 mintues after we do.

    We were there only because they were an island of county property within city limits and we had automatic aid throughout the county. We had no mandate to be there and didn't owe him a d@mn thing.

    Moral of the story...especially when you settle for a volunteer fire department and the level of service that it provides....you only get what you pay for.

    FTM-PTB
    Fred, I forgot to type that I understood your point. Sorry.
    PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

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    Forum Member johnny46's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI View Post
    It's the FD's primary responsibility to put out the fire efficiently and quickly regardless of whether the propertyowner is insured or not.
    Yeah, but all we have to go on is the civilian's opinion of their firefighting abilities.

    Perhaps even less reliable than a fireman, I'd say.
    Logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.

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    Quote Originally Posted by johnny46 View Post
    Yeah, but all we have to go on is the civilian's opinion of their firefighting abilities.

    Perhaps even less reliable than a fireman, I'd say.
    The opinion is influenced-career or volunteer-by an ignorance of proper fire suppression activities, an ignorance of fire dynamics and an altered sense of time.

    I have found when dealing with objective observations-where was the fire located, what did it look like, etc., the civilian observations are pretty good. However, especially when dealing with time, even FF perceptions are screwed up.
    PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

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    Leitchfield fire department is a volunteer department with a couple of paid guys in the day time. So if it was early morning, it would have been volunteers responding anyways. They are well equiped but not a career fire department.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BLSboy View Post
    More VFDs then there are cities?
    Is this New Jersey?

    Consolidate, and go paid!
    Seriously, there is NO reason for there to be any more then ONE Fire Dept in a city. The old days of this is my sandbox, go find your own, need to end.
    OK BOY; Let's see. 100 people per square mile, Per capita income of $18K. Do you really think these people can afford the millions of dollars it takes to fund a full time paid fire department?

    I really believe this is an attempt a some sort of humor because nobody can be that stupid.

    At any rate, your humor failed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by johnny46 View Post
    Yeah, but all we have to go on is the civilian's opinion of their firefighting abilities.

    Perhaps even less reliable than a fireman, I'd say.
    That's funny, there was another thread around here where some chucklehead was complaining about the response. This also was in Kentucky. You only heard from the homeowner of the double wide and the media.

    I find it ironic how civilians become such experts once they lose everything.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI View Post
    The opinion is influenced-career or volunteer-by an ignorance of proper fire suppression activities, an ignorance of fire dynamics and an altered sense of time.

    I have found when dealing with objective observations-where was the fire located, what did it look like, etc., the civilian observations are pretty good. However, especially when dealing with time, even FF perceptions are screwed up.
    I think we agree, but you used some big words and hyphens.
    Logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.

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    makes good girls go bad BLSboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ScareCrow57 View Post
    OK BOY; Let's see. 100 people per square mile, Per capita income of $18K. Do you really think these people can afford the millions of dollars it takes to fund a full time paid fire department?

    I really believe this is an attempt a some sort of humor because nobody can be that stupid.

    At any rate, your humor failed.
    Dont you have another face shield to go melt?

    Yes, part of it was humor. But part of it wasn't. Consolidation is the way to go. Share resources, closest unit goes, no more castle rule.


    And obviously, YES some people can be that stupid.
    You for not seeing a smiley face and the implied humor, and them for suing a Fire Dept that barely exists.
    And if the home owners account has even a shred of credibility, and the VFD didn't call a paid dept for help, then the VFD for not putting their tiny penis away, and asking for help.

    So why don't you put your tiny penis away, thicken your skin, develop a sense of humor, go melt another face shield, pay the 50 bucks for your tranny hooker, so you can get laid, and relax for a change.
    Last edited by BLSboy; 08-14-2008 at 10:52 PM. Reason: spelling
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